Q&A Topic: How Should I Prepare for My Initial Consultation With a Prospective Attorney When I’m Contemplating Divorce?
Lisa Zeiderman, Esq., CFL
Q. What documents and/or financial information do I need to bring to my initial consultation with an attorney?
A. When making your initial consultation appointment, request any intake documents so you can fill out the forms in advance, and bring those forms to the consultation to make the most of your time.
To the best of your ability, draft a summary of your assets, liabilities and monthly expenses and bring the summary to the initial consultation.
If you executed a prenuptial and/or postnuptial agreement, bring the agreement(s) with you so the attorney can review it with you. If valid, the prenuptial/postnuptial agreement(s) will help define how to proceed with a divorce with respect to the monetary issues as rights may be defined or waived.
Bring proof of income for you and your spouse, including the last three years of tax returns and year-end summaries of credit card statements to the extent that you have this information.
If there were any issues of domestic violence, bring any police reports and/or Orders of Protection. If there are custodial issues, bring a summary of you and your spouse’s involvement with and care of the children. Be sure to mention any learning differences your children may have or any special needs issues. Bring any recent reports and evaluations prepared by professionals at your child’s school, or by outside professionals treating your child.
Q. What are some factors influencing decisions about child custody?
A. Be prepared to discuss several areas, with the most important being both parents’ relationships and varying roles with the children. Some issues that may define parental custody include your child(ren)’s special needs, learning differences, where the children attend school, future goals, mental health issues (for parents as well as children), parental use of alcohol/drugs, and any domestic violence issues. Your attorney will want to discuss each parent’s relationships with the professionals (pediatricians, therapists, tutors, etc.) treating your child and appointment schedules for these meetings. At the consultation, you may discuss reports and evaluations prepared by professionals at your child’s school, or outside professionals such as psychologists who are treating your child. You should be able to discuss any special needs and learning differences that impact your children.
It is not uncommon for parents and/or their children to have therapists. Many parents seeking divorce may seek therapy for themselves and/or their children to help inform the children about divorce, aid with co-parenting of the children, and for support while going through a difficult time period. You can discuss this with your attorney at the consultation. If there are mental health issues, you should raise these at the initial consultation as well.
People may underplay the existence of domestic violence, but be honest with your attorney as it may impact custody and financial issues. Your attorney needs to know if the abuse is physical or verbal; if it has occurred in the presence of your children; if it has been reported to the police; and if an Order of Protection is in effect.
Q. What are some misconceptions people have about divorce?
A. People don’t get divorced in five minutes—whether the marriage is short or long, there is often a lot to unwind and that takes time. Usually, one person is initiating the divorce and therefore had more time to think about ending the marriage. The other person may be surprised and, in some cases, not on board. The latter person needs time to catch up.
People believe court is like Law & Order, that litigation literally goes at that pace. This is not a one-hour show. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. You need stamina to go the distance, and you need to be prepared for a bit of a roller coaster ride. Some days will be good and some not so good. You will not get what you want at every single stop. Look toward an overall settlement that will be palatable, and realize it takes time to get to that.
Marriage is essentially a business partnership, and the tenor of the divorce process changes according to financial and custodial issues. We try to take emotion out of it to the extent we can so clients can make the best decisions possible for themselves and their children. We understand the divorce process is fraught with anxiety and can be frightening, but we also know clear thinking will lead to the best results.
The best agreements are those the parties reach themselves. We encourage our clients to resolve their matters as going to Court is always a risk. You are handing decisions about your life and your children’s lives over to one individual (the Judge) who doesn’t know you and/or your spouse. That being said, if you are unable to reach agreement through negotiations, it may be necessary to involve the Court.
Our team prepares every case as though it is going to trial, because we believe the best-negotiated agreements occur when you are prepared. Preparation is key to negotiation and litigation: You need to know your risks.
Q. What should I ask about during the consultation?
A. Discuss your expectations and goals as to custodial and financial issues, including issues of access and decision making as they pertain to custody and as to issues/obligations of support and division of assets and liabilities.
Ask the attorney whether your expectations and goals are realistic. Be prepared to hear the truth and to absorb the information. You should understand which attorney(s) will be working on your matter.
Ask about billing procedures and understand your responsibility as to the retainer and the future billing. Be straightforward about your capacity to finance litigation. It helps your attorney define who will work on your case, hourly rates, supervision, delegated roles within the law firm, and how you may save on legal fees as you proceed through divorce.
About Miller, Zeiderman & Wiederkehr, LLP
Lisa Zeiderman focuses her law practice solely on matrimonial and family law. As an attorney, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and a Founding Member and Advisory Board Member of the American Academy of Certified Financial Litigation, Ms. Zeiderman is uniquely equipped to represent high net worth and/or complex financial matters in areas including equitable distribution of assets, child support, alimony, and the negotiation and drafting of prenuptial and postnuptial agreements and complex custody matters. She is a Fordham University of Law graduate, a member of the panel for Attorney for Children, and a Board Member of Savvy Ladies.
Miller Zeiderman & Wiederkehr LLP has offices in White Plains and Manhattan, NY, and serves clients throughout Manhattan, Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Orange Counties, as well as throughout the Greater NY Metro area.